Tag: laowai


Apr 2012

Mike Sui’s Video

A half-Chinese, half-American actor by the name of Mike Sui (Mike ) has been making quite a stir on Weibo and on the Chinese web with his recent video in which he plays the part of 12 different nationalities/personalities. He does various accents in both English and Chinese (and he’s clearly fluent in both). My favorite is the Taiwanese one (starting at around 7 minutes). Take a look if you haven’t seen it already:

(More details about the video and the Chinese reaction are on ChinaSMACK.)

Interestingly, the video is being promoted in a way that refers to him as a 老外 (foreigner), but Mike is clearly half Chinese, and speaks both English and Chinese natively (or very close to natively). According to various Chinese sources (here’s one), Mike’s dad is a Beijinger and his mom is American. That still counts as 老外?


Jan 2012

Dashan on Why Foreigners Hate Dashan


After reading this post on Quora, I’m now quite convinced that no one has given the question of “why (western) foreigners hate Dashan so much” as much thought as Mark Rowswell, the man behind Dashan (大山).

I should warn you: the entire answer is quite long, but it’s worth a read. Mark breaks it down into these parts:

  1. Overuse – People are sick and tired of hearing the name “Dashan”;
  2. Resentment (Part A) – Dashan’s not the only Westerner who speaks Chinese fluently;
  3. Resentment (Part B) – Being a foreign resident in China is not easy and Dashan gets all the breaks;
  4. Political/Cultural – People wish Dashan had more of an edge; [I found Mark’s reasons for Dashan’s lack of an edge especially interesting, since they relate to a Chinese tendency toward sensitivity to foreign criticism]
  5. Stereotyping – The assumption that Dashan is a performing monkey.

Looks to me like people can quit asking this question. That’s the answer. But I also feel like we’re getting this definitive answer at a time when all the hubbub about Dashan has finally started to die down.


Jul 2011

Thoughts on an American Job Applicant on Chinese TV

非你莫属 Screenshot

I’ve mentioned before that I occasionally indulge in the Chinese dating show 非诚勿扰. There’s another one of these reality TV-type Chinese shows that I watch from time to time called 非你莫属 (English name: “Only You”). On this show, each entrant is a job applicant given a chance to explain the type of job he’s looking for and interview with a panel of 12 bosses right there on camera. If all goes well, the bosses make offers to the applicant, and details of salary are discussed right on the show. Finally, the applicant is given a chance to accept the final offers or decline them and leave the stage.

This show is appealing for a number of reasons. There is quite a range of applicants, from young kids with no experience, to senior citizens, to the destitute and desperate, to the physically abnormal. Quite a few of the applicants just plain don’t have much to offer. The “bosses,” who are on the show to promote their own companies, can also say some interesting things. Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects to me is seeing what kind of job offers are made on the show, and what salaries the applicants will accept.

After watching this show for a while, I was surprised to see recently that there was a young American applicant. Unlike 非诚勿扰 (the dating show), which has had quite a few foreigners on the show, I’d never seen it on this show. The applicant was a 25-year-old white American male named Nathan (Chinese name: 尚德). Having lived in Beijing for a while, Nathan spoke pretty solid Chinese, and had no major issues communicating on the show. But the bosses’ reactions to Nathan were not quite what I expected.

非你莫属 Screenshot

Before I go on, some links are in order:

* A Sohu TV link to the video (the segment discussed here is 01:06-16:05)
* A Google Docs link to the Chinese transcript (01:06-16:05)



Jul 2008

13 o'clock

Those of us that learn Mandarin according to the Beijing standard typically learn the expression 二百五 pretty early. While it seems to be the innocent number “250,” it actually has a slang meaning: “stupid” or “idiot.”

13 o'clock

Zhao Wei: 十三点

Those of us spending time in China’s south eventually come to a realization: you don’t hear 二百五 that much around here. What you do hear, especially in Shanghai, is 十三点 (“13 o’clock”). While it means basically the same thing as the north’s 二百五, it’s milder, often approaching something more like “silly” or “dopey” (in Chinese, 傻得可爱, or “cutely silly”).

Interestingly, Baidu Zhidao even gives us a poster child for the 十三点 look: a character once played by actress Zhao Wei (赵薇).

Baidu tells us that when it’s used between two people of the opposite sex, it’s often used in flirting (and most often comes out of the girl’s mouth).

As for origins of the expression, Baidu Zhidao gives us two main theories:

1. It’s a reference to an illegal move in a gambling game (6 and 7 can’t be played at the same time, and they add up to 13)
2. It’s a reference to an hour that traditional clocks do not strike (no military time back then!)

13 o'clock

13 o’clock: the shirt!

I thought 十三点 might be a fun thing to put on a shirt (more fun than “250” anyway), so I made this new one. I think it’s the kind of thing that laowai would enjoy wearing to see what kind of reaction it gets out of the Chinese, whereas the Chinese can’t fathom why a foreigner would possibly want to wear a shirt with that on it. (Good times all around!)

The Sinosplice shop has other conversation-starting Chinese-themed t-shirts.


Feb 2008

The Contempt of the Powerful and the Term Laowai

A recent post on LanguageHat called Bad Language got me thinking about the laowai (老外) issue again. Yes, it’s a rather tired (often overly emotional) discussion, but I think that LanguageHat’s very rational view on the topic offers a new perspective on the matter.

Basically, LanguageHat’s view is this:

1. When the privileged and powerful use originally neutral terms for groups of people “beneath them,” their contempt naturally creeps into the language they use.
2. Those groups targeted by the contempt-laden language object to it more and more over time, until politically correct alternatives come along.
3. The privileged and powerful are presented with the new language, and “PC language is a cheap substitute for actually treating people equally, so they usually go ahead and do it.”

Makes sense to me. But how does the laowai issue fit in?

Here are some key differences:

1. The laowai issue is cross-language, cross-cultural. We’re dealing with the way Chinese people talk about foreigners, in their own language. Just to make it absolutely clear, a similar thing would be Americans objecting to Mexicans calling Americans gringos when they speak Spanish. (I don’t believe the two examples are actually equivalent, though.)
2. When we look at which Chinese people use the word laowai, we’re definitely not dealing with the privileged and the powerful of Chinese society. Most often, it’s exactly the opposite. Some might claim that the educated of Chinese society don’t use the term laowai, but I maintain it’s the Chinese who have significant contact with (often hypersensitive) foreigners that avoid the term laowai. It’s pure pragmatics.
3. On average, foreigners get excellent treatment in China. It’s not uncommon for Chinese people who give extra favorable treatment to foreigners use the term, and it’s also used by the guys that yell “hello” and laugh at the “big-noses.” So the term is not a part of a larger picture of negative discrimination.

Again, this brings me back to my previous position: the term laowai in Chinese is not inherently derogatory, nor is it used in the familiar pattern of other offensive labels for groups of people outlined above.

I’m not looking to rehash the previous debates. If that is what interests you, please see this post.


May 2007

On Accents and Perceived Fluency

I’ve known for a while that for the highest perceived fluency, a foreigner should aim for a Beijing accent. That’s what Dashan did, and I’ve witnessed many times that a Beijing accent just impresses Chinese people more (especially outside of Beijing). It never had any appeal for me, though.

What I have noticed, though, is that as one’s accent improves, it can move through various levels of perceived fluency, seemingly imitating some of Greater China’s regional accents. I’ve actually heard Chinese people make some of these comments, and I cobbled together this rough guide to what the various comments mean.

When they say you sound like a… they mean that…
your Chinese is bad.
your Chinese is bad (but they tried just a little to be polite).
(Xinjiang person)
your Chinese is functional, but your tones are a mess.
(Shandong person)
your Chinese is a bit better than a 新疆人’s.
(Sichuan person)
your Chinese is a bit better than a 山东人’s.
(Hong Kong person)
your Chinese is pretty good, but sounds a little funny.
your Chinese is good, but some consonants are non-standard.
your Chinese not only sounds like a 南方人’s, but also a girl’s. (This is not so bad if you happen to be a girl.)
your Chinese is good, but not quite up to 北京人 levels.
your Chinese is really amazing.

These impressions are sure to vary somewhat from region to region (and yes, they are unfair, subjective generalizations). Anything I missed?


Mar 2007

My Antidiuretic Presence

It was early evening, shortly after dinner. I was on the outskirts of Shanghai trying to find a cab to get home. As I walked the streets I was vaguely aware of a guy standing facing a wall, having a conversation with another nearby guy in a car. I’ve learned that (especially in China) it’s best not to pay attention to guys facing walls on the side of the street, so I never gave him more than a glance. As I passed by, though, I couldn’t help but overhear a part of the two men’s conversation.

> Guy in car: [something annoyed and impatient-sounding]

> Guy at wall: Hold on! I just saw a foreigner so I can’t pee!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Up until that point I hadn’t realized that one of my laowai superpowers was my antidiuretic presence.


Feb 2007

Chinese Food for Laowai

Laowai Chinese recently hit on a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for a while: What Foreigners Like to Eat in China. It’s true that foreigners in China find many menu items to be a hassle (read: almost any fish), while others are just not usually pleasing to our palates (read: chicken feet). In his post Albert makes a very good list, although mine would be slightly different.

First, I’d list the essentials (excluding rice) for foreigners in China. These are the best dishes for someone who has just arrived, but they also tend to remain in the favorite lists of foreigners that have been here a while.

Essential Chinese Food

1. 宫保鸡丁 – Kung pow chicken. This has got to be the favorite. I still love it.
2. 饺子 – Dumplings. They come in boilded and fried varieties, but they’re all good.
3. 扬州炒饭 Yangzhou fried rice. It’s better than just plain fried rice, because it has ham (oops, I mean “ham”), shrimp, peas, etc. in it.
4. 鱼香肉丝 – Fishilicious Pork Strips. [OK, that’s not the official translation, but that’s the one I’ve been using since my Hangzhou days.] There’s no fish in it; it’s strips of pork and other good stuff in a sweetish, spicyish sauce. Foreigners usually love it with rice.
5. 羊肉串 – Lamb kebabs. This needs no explanation.
6. 番茄炒蛋 – Stir-fried eggs and tomato.

There are obviously a lot of other that could be listed (see Albert’s list), but those would be my essential six. I still enjoy all of them, despite favoring them heavily for over six years.

So basically, if a foreigner showed up in China alone, and was allowed to choose what food he wanted to eat without any outside influence, there’s a good chance he’d end up eating these six and liking them the best.

I feel like there should be ten, though. Ten is a much nicer number. I wish I had time to make a list of the “perfect ten,” but I have a plane to catch to Chongqing.

Bon appétit!


Feb 2006

Irate Football Fan

Two weeks ago was “Super Bowl Monday.” At 6am John B and I caught a taxi to Windows Scoreboard, the place the Carl said would be “the place” to catch the big game. Well, “the place” insofar as it’s a pretty decent sports bar, beer is cheap (in the Windows tradition), and you can even get a decent American breakfast for a reasonable price. Plus they were showing the Super Bowl through satellite TV, so we didn’t have to put up with that outrageous 15-second delay.

I’m not a big sports fan at all, but I enjoy a good football game from time to time. I’d never started drinking so early before, and it was a good reason to hang out with John B and Carl, my former roommate I hadn’t seen in a while.

Excited by the breakfast food which Carl assured us would be very tasty, I ordered a 30 rmb omelette with cheddar, bacon, onions, and tomatoes. I was really looking forward to that.

When we arrived at 6:30am, the place was fairly crowded, and breakfast orders were flying. I waited a good while for that omelette, and I was getting hungry. (Plus, like a wuss, I wanted to eat before I started on my beer.) At one point I decided to go up to the bar and check on my order.

There was a foreigner in front of me trying to put in a food order. He got the extremely busy waitress’s attention and started giving her his order (in English). She gave him an embarrassed laugh and told him she didn’t understand (in Chinese). The guy tried again (in English). She apologized again (in Chinese) and started to leave. I sympathized with the guy, because the bartender could take his English order, but the bartender was really busy too, and so the foreigner might have to wait another while just to put his order in, let alone actually eat. So I stepped in and told the guy I’d translate for him. I started telling the waitress in Chinese what the guy wanted.

The foreigner did not like that. He gave me a nasty, “I’d like to order my own damn food, if that’s OK with you.” So I immediately backed off and left the guy alone. I eventually got my omelette and it was goooood. (More memorable than the Super Bowl, in fact.)

So what was the guy’s deal? My interpretation is that the guy was just in a bad mood (maybe he was a Seahawks fan?), but maybe not… I wonder how many other foreigners would be pissed off by what I did. It’s been my experience that any newcomers with no language skills are typically grateful in a situation like that. But maybe the guy has been in Shanghai a while and he’s pissed off that he still can’t order food, and thought I was trying to show off? If the guy was trying to order food in broken Chinese but the waitress couldn’t understand him, I could understand how he would get pissed at me for butting in. I wouldn’t have said anything in a case like that. But he wasn’t speaking any Chinese at all.

I find these multilingual/cross-cultural exchanges and all the emotion-laden sociolinguistic baggage they come with to be very interesting.


Dec 2005

Laowai Delusions of Fluency

Kakis, a regular commenter on Talk Talk China, recently left this one:

> I always love to speak Chinese to laowais, in fact, I am really good at teaching, be it language or Engineering stuff.a lot of laowais like the way I teach them how to pronounce ’si & shi; zhan & zhang; lan & nan;….’. But the thing is, laowais like to show off their Chinese whenever they are in the meeting or some conferences. they think their Chinese is already up to a standard whereby they can involve some serious discussions. but the fact is, they suck. They can speak some basic Chinese pretty well, some even have Beijing accent. but the truth is they are really far far away from being professional.

This is so true. I’m not trying to trash talk other foreigners’ Chinese; I’m talking about myself. It’s easy for me to say that I’m “fluent” in Mandarin because I’ve got the pronunciation down pretty well and basic conversation is a piece of cake. But when the discussion gets abstract or intellectual, I fumble. I’m reminded of this fact repeatedly in grad school. It’s usually not so difficult to follow the conversation, but to actually make a contribution on par intellectually with my classmates is no easy task!

I remember a while back my girlfriend once said to me, “when I talk to you, I don’t feel like I’m talking to a foreigner. I feel like I’m talking to a Chinese person. But it’s an uncultured (没有文化的) Chinese person!” I feel this is mainly due to my lack of sophisticated vocabulary, which I blame on years of self-study and taking a practical approach to language learning.

I know I’m not the only student of Chinese facing this issue. I don’t mean to discourage anyone, but I think that it’s important to stay humble. It takes a lot of hard work to become “conversationally fluent.” I know. But it’s still a long, hard road from conversationally fluent to “educated fluent.” Kidding yourself about your Chinese level doesn’t get you anything but awkward pseudo-intellectual conversations.


Oct 2005

Snobbery, Guilt, and Good Will

I admitted to Micah the other day that he was a part of the inspiration for the 老百姓 snob I wrote about recently. I didn’t mean it as an insult or anything… it was just an observation of his lifestyle in Shanghai.

Micah recently responded:

But let me say a few words in defense of the 老百姓 snob. I think the reason I put forward the effort to be this kind of snob is because I reject the status boost I might get from the stereotypes that Chinese hold about Western folk: they’re educated, creative, high-flying, party hard, and come to take charge. Consequently, I have to actively try to frame myself back into the same “social status” that I would have had back at home: just your average college graduate working his way into the middle class, feeling out of place in places like Rodeo Drive in Hollywood, considering his pocketbook when he dines out, and still having a warm spot in his heart for the street food and home-cooking of his youth. It’s not that the 老百姓 snob is absurd, it’s that he’s more sensitive to taking advantage of people thinking he’s something he’s not.

Not that I don’t realize I’m different; I will take advantage of being a foreigner abroad by taking English-teaching or translating jobs, but taking a higher salary just because I have a white face is something that weighs on my conscience. Maybe a useful metric to live by would be, if I was an immigrant from Nigeria would I have this option (of taking this higher salary, being invited to this party, being asked to take part in the filming of this commercial)?

On the one hand I kind of admire Micah’s stance. I, too, have felt the sort of “guilt of the privileged” on many occasions while living in China. I see it differently, though.



Oct 2005

Those Shanghai Laowai…


The page features various articles on what foreigners are up to, and two pictorials. One is a gallery of foreigners fixing bikes (and it’s every bit as fascinating as it sounds!). The other is a smaller gallery of foreigners drinking beer out of traditional Chinese vessels called 痰盂. The dictionary says a 痰盂 is a spittoon, and the characters that make up the word seem to indicate this is well. According to a Chinese source, however, these 痰盂 were frequently used in the past as a “port-a-potty.” In other words, they housed not only phlegm, but also human waste. My source told me that for a Chinese person, seeing someone drink out of one of these things causes automatic feelings of revulsion, “even if they were actually brand new,” never having been actually used for their intended purposes. I pointed out that particularly in picture three, the bottoms of the 痰盂 clearly show some wear; they don’t look brand new at all.

Shanghai's Laowai

Shanghai Online, a Chinese internet portal site, recently did a special on Shanghai’s laowai.

[The chamber pot chuggers belong to a “drink and run” club called the Hash House Harriers. The Shanghai chapter has a website if you’re interested in joining.]

Hmmm, so what image of laowai is Shanghai Online trying to portray…?

Update: Bingfeng already blogged about the beer chuggers, way back in May! That’s what I get for not reading more than a handful of other blogs, I guess…


Oct 2005

Offensive Laowai T-shirts

Chinawhite recently linked to some t-shirts for laowai in China.

Some of the shirts are mildly amusing. I wouldn’t wear any of them. The shirts feature such phrases (in Chinese) as:

– Here comes a laowai. There goes the laowai.
– Too expensive!
– I’m not a laowai, I’m a “foreigner.” [more on this issue]
– I don’t want a watch. I don’t want DVDs. I don’t want a bag.
– I will never give you any money. [in weird grammar]
– Don’t think that just because I’m a foreigner I’ll buy your stuff for 5 times the normal price.

I don’t find the shirts themselves very interesting, although I certainly understand the “inspiration” behind the shirts. What is interesting is the Chinese reaction to the shirts. There’s a fairly famous example of a foreigner causing a bit of a ruckus in Nanjing with a t-shirt listing rules for how the Chinese should interact with a foreigner. In that case “the people of Nanjing were angered because, reading between the lines of the T-shirt message, they saw a message of unwarranted arrogance and white supremacy. ” Obviously the messages above have the potential to piss off the Chinese as well.

I’m not one to wear t-shirts designed to provoke anger or outrage. Still, if you want to buy one of those shirts (mainly one of the latter three) and wear it around China, I’d be very interested to hear what kind of reaction you got.

Note: I have already posted an entry about this entitled 老外的T袖衫 in my Chinese blog, asking my Chinese readers what they think. I may write a future post about their responses.


Jun 2005

Running the Gauntlet

I recently read a funny posting on Shanghai Craigslist by an American about his daily walk to work. It’s basically a long rant about the types of people he can’t stand on the way to work:

1. Parasol Ladies
2. Loogie Guys
3. Lords of the Crosswalk
4. Guys Who Try to Hand Me Things
5. Sidewalk Scooter Drivers

Yes, it’s more exapt complaining, but it’s pretty funny (and only mildly offensive). I can identify all the groups he mentions, and I feel his pain. I’m pretty sure Craigslist ads are deleted after a certain period of time, so I wanted to preserve it for posterity. (I hope that’s cool with you, D.)



May 2005

Laowai Will Like You Too!

I bought this book a while back solely because of its title: 老外也会喜欢你 (“Foreigners Will Like You Too”). The author was a twenty-something Chinese woman and, judging from the book’s cover (oops), the intended audience was Chinese women. It seemed likely that the laowai referred to in the title were male ones. Like me. This was going to be entertaining, I thought.

I was very wrong. Every time I tried to read the book, it failed completely to hold my interest. I demoted it to “bathroom book” status, figuring I’ll read anything on an extended visit to the commode. But even as a bathroom book, and even read in the “open to a random page” fashion, the book was utterly uninteresting. I was intensely disappointed. Of the few sections I did read, I remember virtually nothing. I vaguely recall a few ridiculous generalizations.

Please keep in mind that this is not a book review, because I didn’t read the book. I did, however, look at the pictures. Thoroughly. They were pretty.

In keeping with an incomplete treatment of the book, I will loosely translate the table of contents:

1. Where there’s a will, there’s a way
2. Where are the laowai?
3. No barriers to communication
4. Using charm in communication
5. Etiquette when getting to know each other
6. Communication’s visual etiquette
7. Dealing with a foreign boss
8. Foreigners’ taboos and customs
9. A beautiful mood
10. Foreigners have something to say
11. My view of foreigners

OK, now for the pictures. As I said, I found them the most interesting part of the book. I like the style. The question, however, is: what do these illustrations communicate to the reader?


May 2005

Laowai Time Warp

The day after posting a link to the great laowai debate, I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker. It was the kind of thing I would probably not have paid much attention to were the matter not already on my mind.

My co-worker is in her late twenties and comes from Sichuan. She has been living in Shanghai for the past five years or so.

I was having a conversation with my co-worker about foreigner teachers. When she got to the word “foreigner” she got as far as “laow-” and then switched to “waiguoren.” I smiled at this and let her continue.

After the conversation was over, I couldn’t let it go. I had to ask her: “Why didn’t you just say ‘laowai?'”

Clearly, she was embarrassed. I anticipated this, but I had to ask anyway. She replied, “I was afraid you would be offended.”

“Why would I be offended?” I asked. “Isn’t it a neutral term?”

“Yes, it is definitely neutral. But I’m aware that some waiguoren don’t like to be called laowai.” [Note: zhwj reports similar exchanges.]

This got me thinking. And I wasn’t taking anything for granted. Call me cynical, but I never completely trust one native speaker’s view of her language, and I thought this case was particularly suspect. Why was it suspect? Well, Chinese can be especially sensitive to how they are viewed by outsiders. If “laowai” does, indeed, carry negative connotations, some Chinese people would be worried that foreigners would consider them racist for using it. In short: Chinese people might lie about the connotations of the word laowai in order to avoid being viewed as racist by foreigners.

It seems to me, however, that most evidence indicates that laowai is a neutral term. Todd has recently done an internet study on it, and came to this conclusion as well. This was also the original premise behind Tom Vamvanij’s post that started the debate. Why all the conflicting anecdotes then?

I posit that the word is in something of a state of transition. As zhwj has pointed out with a Chinese dictionary definition (via the Peking Duck post), the word used to have a more negative connotation than it does now:

> Breaking out the dictionary: 《应用汉语词典》(2000年), published by the venerable Commercial Press, says: “老外…(2)称外国人(现在外国人自己也称自己为“老外”,所以已经不含轻蔑意,而是一种诙谐的用法了)

> The parts I’ve emphasized imply (1) in the past the term had a
disdainful flavor to it, although it doesn’t now, and (2) it’s more
jocular or familiar now.

Why would this negative connotation change to neutral? Probably the biggest catalyst would be real-life contact with foreigners. Naturally, you would expect Shanghai and Beijing to lead the pack in such an evolution, as those cities’ foreign populations are quite large. By the same token, we would expect small Chinese towns with little or no exposure to foreigners to cling longer to the “negative version” of the term laowai.

If we are currently in such a stage of transition, it would explain a lot. It would explain why Hank, living in a small rural town, might find the word extremely offensive, while I, in Shanghai, find it totally innocuous. And it would explain the conflicting “real life reports” of different foreigners’ experience with the word.

Understanding of certain words often varies from individual to individual; I think it’s unsurprising for a lexical discrepancy to arise in a country as large and diverse as China, especially with the widening gap between the “rich east” and “poor west.” This might be just the perfect set of conditions to nurture a sort of verbal time warp effect to which the term laowai could fall victim.

Despite my suspicions regarding native speaker explanations, I still maintain that laowai is a neutral term. If it doesn’t feel neutral in your part of China, it may just be a matter of time. Encourage the locals to watch more TV.

Related blog entries:

Todd writes about seven Chinese words for foreigner.
Tom Vamvanij asserts that “laowai” has no positive connotation.
Richard throws a link up and gets lots of comments.
Todd asks his Chinese readers (in Chinese).
Adam thinks “laowai” has lost its negative connotations.

Kinda Related: 老外的秘密 (in Chinese; scroll down)


May 2005

Of Note

I have enjoyed these recent(ish) entries:

Tom Vamvanij writes about the term 老外, driving home the point that it does not connote respect. Very interesting discussion ensues. I agree it’s inherently neutral. People that don’t like the term should leave China, because it’s not going away. Don’t miss Todd‘s great comments. He says what I would, but better.

– Speaking of leaving China… Mr. Morris (previously of Brainysmurf.org) says that he’s leaving China for Vietnam, and he is elated: “Why am I elated? Here comes the ironic part. Because I am leaving….

Alf is back! He’s in rare form, talking about bad Western music in China. I haven’t seen him writing like this in a loooong time.

Greg got the last word about the anti-Japanese riots: Things the Chinese Really Wanted to Protest Before They Settled on Japan.

As long as I’m linking to those blogs above, I should mention something about Blogger. When Blogger upgrades, it upgrades its templates too. If you’re using a custom template on Blogger, you don’t get the benefit of the upgrades. You need to modify your custom template to take advantage of the upgrades, or do a redesign based on a new template.

Example: Alf’s blog still uses the old individual entry linking method, and has no RSS feed. Greg’s blog uses the new archive linking method (his blog is newer), but his feeds don’t work. These two blogs would especially benefit from having working feeds, as they are not frequently updated. Blogger can do it for them with a few simple configuration changes.

I don’t mean to just criticise. I’m willing to help with this, of course.


May 2005

Gaijin Complex

Remember Marco Polo Syndrome? Well, Marxy of the excellent Japan blog Néomarxisme has recently written about a parallel phenomenon:

>…all foreigners with interest in Japan hate all the other foreigners with interest in Japan. The Colonialists all like their ex-pat buddies and pubs, but the Japanese-speaking foreigner contingent is in constant battle with themselves, vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration. I call this the “gaijin complex,” and I’m only finally finding my way out of it now after a long period of affliction and convalescence.

It’s very interesting to me that the phenomenon in Japan involves “vying to prove linguistic abilities, obscure knowledge, and depth of societal penetration.” That’s something that few expats in China attempt. Sure, there are those with the obscure knowledge (especially political), but all three?

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of creature the “China expat” evolves into. With China’s continued economic development, will he resemble his cousin in Japan someday?


Sep 2002

Laowai 4ever!

The other day I had to catch a taxi into town, and pulling off of ZhouShan Dong Road traffic was somewhat congested. As we were slowed to a crawl, the driver frantically looking for a hole in traffic he could dart through, my gaze fell on two women on a bike. One was pedalling, the other was sitting on the rack in back, facing the road. I couldn’t hear her, but when she saw me I could easily read the words her lips spoke to her friend: “There’s a laowai over there.” A foreigner.

Of course, this kind of incident is a daily occurrence. I caught her eyes and raised my eyebrows, communicating, “Yes, I am a laowai, and I understood what you just said.” She blushed, covered her mouth, and tucked her head behind her friend, no doubt recounting this shocking development. I’m getting better at that look.

To live in China is to be constantly reminded that you are a foreigner, that you are different, and that you don’t really belong here. When I say we foreigners don’t “belong” here, I’m not saying we’re unwelcome. Sometimes we are very welcome. It’s just that we don’t belong.

This idea is communicated in many different ways. One way is that it’s difficult to have conversations with new people that aren’t centered on where I’m from, why I’m here, how long I’ve been here, how much I make, if I’m used to Chinese food, etc. If you’re a foreigner, that’s simply what everyone wants to talk to you about. Every now and then I’ll meet someone new and have an entirely normal conversation that is completely unconnected to the fact that I’m a foreigner. When that happens, it’s so refreshing, and I just feel so grateful for being treated not just as a foreigner, but just as a person. And it’s absurd that I should have those feelings. I guess you could say I’m finally understanding what it’s like to be a minority, and that minorities in the USA have similar experiences, but I still think it’s different.

Of course, the other way the idea is communicated is a little more bluntly. The stares. People yelling, “Hello!” and then laughing if you turn to look. People feeling the need to alert everyone in the vicinity that a laowai has entered the scene. People talking about you right next to you on the bus, assuming you understand nothing.

This is all part of life in China, and it must be accepted. But what’s really hard to accept is the fact that China will continue on like this, no matter how good my Chinese gets. I don’t know, I guess it’s stupid, but I know that one day I’m going to be speaking more than good Chinese–I’m going to be speaking kickass Chinese–and that in return for that accomplishment I should get treated normally. That if enough time passes, Chinese people should get used to me. It’s absurd, but somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to that day. And that day is simply never going to come.